TORONTO — Makom, a new non-profit organization that serves downtown Toronto’s growing Jewish community, has been named one of North America’s 50 most innovative Jewish non-profits by Slingshot ’10-’11, a guidebook that helps funders identify up-and-coming organizations.
Rabbi Aaron Levy drumming at Makom Kabbalat Shabbat Services . [Andrea Toole photo]
Founded in 2009 and based in Toronto’s historic Kensington Market, it brings together a variety of Jewish traditions and serves as a place for learning and connecting to Judaism, as well as working for social and environmental justice.
“I had come to Toronto to be the campus rabbi at Hillel of Greater Toronto. While living downtown, I felt a distinct lack of Jewish life that spoke to me,” said founder Rabbi Aaron Levy. “And from conversations I had with my friends, I knew others felt disconnected from Jewish life, but they were not averse to connecting if an organization emerged that appealed to them,”
The decision to locate the organization – whose full name is Makom: Creative Downtown Judaism – in Kensington Market, the epicentre of an area that was once home to more than 60,000 Jews in the early to mid-20th century, was intentional.
“We are rooted in the space of downtown Toronto, literally a makom [place] for creating an organic Jewish community for downtown Jews,” Rabbi Levy said. “We’re unique, because we focus equally on the creative arts, learning and social justice. We’re primarily concerned with creating a unique Jewish community, focusing on downtown spaces, such as holding services in the Kiever Shul and doing tashlich on Lake Ontario.”
Makom offers a mix of programming, such as a partnership minyan that requires a minimum of 10 men and 10 women to participate, as well as meditation and contemplative Judaism and what it calls a “Jewish Urban Homesteading Workshop Series.”
“There were needs that were not being met in the downtown Jewish area, and I felt a desire to reconnect to the Jewish downtown past,” Rabbi Levy said.
“We hope that in the long term, there will be a revitalized Jewish community downtown, in which Makom will have been the catalyst.”
Since its founding, Makom has been hosted by the Kiever Shul for biweekly Friday night services and many other programs. It’s allowed Makom to facilitate Jewish renewal in a beautiful and historic shul that’s a tangible reminder of downtown Jewish history.
Rabbi Levy grew up in Maryland and moved to New York to study neuroscience research.
“I never had the intention to become a rabbi. Over the course of my undergraduate degree, I realized that the volunteer work I was doing as an informal Jewish educator for high school students was much more meaningful to me,” he said. “It was thrilling and then it dawned on me to become a rabbi and do it full time.”
He was ordained in 2004 in the first graduating class of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a modern Orthodox seminary in New York City. In 2006, he moved to Toronto to work at Hillel.
Rabbi Levy said he was was thrilled to hear Makom made Slingshot’s Top 50 list. It’s the first time a Canadian organization has been recognized in the guidebook’s six-year history. Since 2005, Slingshot has become the recognized source for identifying new and innovative organizations dealing with concerns such as Jewish identity, community, and tradition.
“It’s a real validation of our hard work and the success of building a new, inclusive Jewish community to fill the gaps of downtown Jewish life. Hopefully, we’re just the first of many Canadian organizations who will make the list, as more and more Jews start thinking positively about Jewish life.”
To learn more, visit www.makomto.org or e-mail [email protected].